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Can, could, be able to

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Here’s a refresher lesson on two modal verbs and ‘be able to’, which functions as one.
Lesson by Caroline Devane


Is used to talk about possibility. e.g. ‘Can you meet me at 5?’
Is used to talk about ability. e.g. ‘I can ride a bike’.
Is used to make informal requests and orders. e.g. ‘Can you bring me my jumper?’
Has two negative forms,. can’t and cannot.


Is used to talk about past abilities. e.g. ‘When I was a child I could do handstands’.
Is used to make formal requests. e.g. ‘Could you fax me that document by Tuesday?’
In the negative form, is couldn’t.


Be able to

Is sometimes used instead of can or could.
Can be used with all tenses. e.g. ‘I will be able to see you next week’.
Is used to talk about ability. e.g. ‘Are you able to write formal letters?’

Now that we’ve refreshed the basics, see if you can complete the following sentences correctly.

  • 1. ___ you hear the fireworks from your house last night?

  • 2. Do you think you ___ write that report by Tuesday? I know you’re very busy.

  • 3. I ___ touch my toes. See!

  • 4. I ___ spend another moment in that restaurant. It was too noisy.

  • 5. I ___ never seem to get the temperature right.

  • 6. ___ play professional tennis, you must be extremely fit.

  • 7. ___ you play an instrument?

  • 8. I'm afraid I ___ attend the meeting, I’m on business in Japan.

  • 9. ___ you have brought it to me at work?

  • 10. They ___ save the men from the sinking ship.